In 2015, the Globe and Mail opened conversations about mental health, creating a series called “Open Minds”. As part of their series, they addressed the growing rates of mental health illness in youth, including a statistic from the Mental Health Commission of Canada stating that more than one million youth (defined as ages 9 through 19) are living with a mental illness [1]. One of the best ways to implement better care and resources earlier in life is through the classroom, as it is one of the more widely accessible means to this population.

Dr. Stanley Kutcher, a professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University, has been a figurehead in introducing mental health literacy to high schools across Canada and around the world. In Canada, he was a contributor towards the Mental Health & High School Curriculum Guide, which addresses stigma, information on specific mental illnesses, first person experiences, and resources on how to find support [2]. The curriculum’s effectiveness was measured through program evaluations and knowledge assessment surveys, and participants were assessed before and after training. Several positive findings were produced: teachers’ knowledge on mental health was increased, participants’ mental health stigma decreased, and students’ attitudes towards mental illness was enhanced [2].

Thus, we have strong evidence that by implementing mental health education into classrooms, we are able to access youth directly, and allow for an environment that facilitates positive conversations about mental health. In Nova Scotia, the Guide is now fully implemented into the curriculum for all grade 9 students. Ultimately, we are able to empower youth through this process – yet, according to the numbers from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, we must also consider those in grades earlier than 9 as well.

Currently, there are few examples of mental health outreach programs directed to elementary-aged youth in Canada [5]. Around the world however, we can find successful, notable examples, such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and Schools Together (CAST), an evidence-based program from Australia. Key benefits of the program include teacher training, classroom strategies, parent training, and feedback through qualitative interviews with school personnel [5]. Just as important, the model was implemented easily within the already existing framework of the school [6].

In Canada by contrast, schools are not adequately prepared, nor are there many existing programs that are advanced enough and ready for ‘real world’ implementation [5]. For example, though there are collaborations between Canadian schools and the mental health care system, many of these have a research-specific focus, which can provide important data and results to advance the field, but often are not equipped to be a long-term strategy [5].

Why should we care?

The direct and indirect consequences resulting from a lack of appropriate mental health care are immense. These include outcomes such as an individual having troubles at school, amongst peers, at work, or even leading to suicide [1]. Indirect consequences include the projected cost of addressing these issues over the next 30 years, which has been reported by the Mental Health Commission to be over 2.5 trillion dollars [1].

While we may be able to learn from examples from other countries, we must continue to develop strategies fit for our own school services, curriculum, and students. Perhaps a consolidation of what is already existing in other countries, as well as Dr. Kutcher’s findings which have already found success in Nova Scotia, would be a feasible and realistic solution. Research has shown that 70% of mental health problems in individuals emerge before the age of 18, and 50% of adults with a mental illness report having known before the age of 14 [3,4]. Furthermore, individuals have been shown to have better mental health outcomes if they do get the help they need to tackle these issues earlier on in life [2].

Altogether, the numbers paint a picture, and they indicate that the mental health of Canadian youth can be considered a crisis that has yet to be adequately addressed.  

 

By: Eva Huang
Edited by: Alisia Bonnick
Image by: Bethany Tapp

 

References:

[1] Leung, W. (2015). To improve mental health, tackle problems early. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/tackle-the-problem-early-on/article24566596/

[2] Kutcher, S., & Wei, Y. (2014). School Mental Health Literacy. Canadian Education Association (CEA). Retrieved from http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/school-mental-health-literacy

[3] Canadian Mental Health Association. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.cmha.bc.ca/get-informed/mental-health-information/child-youth-md

[4] Rodger, S., Leschied, A., & Hibbert, K. Teacher To Teacher: Strategies And Resources For Wellness. Physical & Health Education Canada. Retrieved from http://www.phecanada.ca/sites/default/files/1c_teacher-to-teacher_strategies_for_wellness.pdf

[5] McLennan, J. D., Reckord, M., & Clarke, M. (2008). A Mental Health Outreach Program for Elementary Schools. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 17, 122–130.

[6] Corboy, D., & Mcdonald, J. (2007). An evaluation of the CAST program using a conceptual model of school-based implementation. Advances in Mental Health 6, 63-77. doi:10.5172/jamh.6.1.63